Objects of Beauty

Collecting, from stamps to artwork is a deeply seeded passion for many people. While growing up in a household of antique and art collectors I too have developed a passion for objects. The human desire toward objects is reflected in our museums; a place where objects have become immortalized. The museum’s purpose, as Daniel Buren stated in his essay The Function of the Museum (1970), is to “select, collect, and protect” objects of value. However, the museum did not just appear one day; for centuries people have been collecting and the museum emerged out of people’s personal collections. The first origins of the museum can be traced to the 16th century with the popularization of the German kunstkammer (“art-room”) and the wunderkammer (“wonder-room”) more commonly know today as a cabinet of curiosities.

Cabinet of curiosities are indeed wondrous things that hold the strange and unusual from narwhal horns (often thought to be unicorn horns) to fetal pigs the collections varied drastically from one person’s taste to another. Aesthetically though, these rooms and or actual cabinets were breathtakingly beautiful. The physical arrangements of objects was very artful and the detailed cabinets made specifically to hold these collections are gorgeous. Below are beautiful artist’s renditions of the wunderkammer and the kunstkammer from the 16th and 17th century.

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Domenico Remps, Cabinet of Curiosities, oil on canvas, 1690’s

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Johann Georg Hainz, Kleinodien-Schrank, 1666

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Willem van Haecht, The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest, oil on panel, 1628

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Engraving from Ferrante Imperato, Dell’ Historia Naturale, Naples, 1599

Collecting oddities that would traditionally be found in a cabinet of curiosity has been a long lived practice; however, with recent T.V. shows such as Oddities and contemporary art such as Mark Dion’s pseudo-scientific and museological installations, the cabinet of curiosities has become noticeably more popular and has entered mainstream culture. Within the last century traditional wunderkammer museums have been established a few that are especially noteworthy include The Mutter Museumin Philadelphia established in 1858, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, in Los Angeles established in 1988, and the Kunstkammer a museum and shop of the amazing collection of Georg Laue in Munich established in 1997.

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from the Georg Laue collection

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Stephan Zick (1639-1715) Anatomical teaching model of a pregnant woman (Nuremberg, around 1680), collection of Georg Laue

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A set of Renaissance coral cutlery, Venetian-Dalmatian, ca 1600, collection of Georg Laue

The Kunstkammer and Wunderkammer represent the union of art and science, the objects displayed were valued not only as scientific specimens or for their historic value, but for their beauty. Each object in these collections is a work of art whether natural or manmade they are utterly gorgeous. The striking aesthetic qualities of these collections and their display methods have inspired artists such as Mark Dion and Joseph Cornell and others.

Mark Dion

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Installation from Travels of William Bartram-Reconsidered, Tanya Bonakdor Gallery

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Tate Thames Dig, Tate, 1999

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Phantoms of the Clark Expedition, The Explorers Club, 2012

Joseph Cornell

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Untitled (The Hotel Eden), c. 1945

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Untitled (Soap Bubble Set), 1936

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Untitled (American Rabbit), 1945-1946

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Solomon Island, detail (compass tray removed) 1940-1942

David Eichenberg

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Tight Fit, Panel inside Mahogany Cigar Box, 2008

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Three Religions and a Tear Catcher, Oil on Oak Panel in a Cigar Box open view, 2008

{David Eichenberg}

Michael Mapes

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“Specimen no. AM”, 16x14x3″, mixed media

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“Male Specimen SS”, 16x14x3″, mixed media   {Parlor Gallery}

Rosemarie Trockel

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Installation for A Cosmos, New Museum, Exhibition: October 24 – January 20, 2012

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